JUST the thought of dealing with office politics can make most people cringe. In one national survey of executives:
• 67 per cent said “organisational politics in my organisation are damaging”;
• 69 per cent experienced stress caused by organisational politics;
• 74 per cent have seen careers damaged by negative rumours and office politics; and
• 92 per cent have seen careers helped by office politics (so it does have benefits as well).
What is politics? It is simply the result of what you get when you have two or more people with different views, values or beliefs. It is healthy because it promotes debate and is a catalyst for change.
However, it can become unhealthy when one person/group wants to “win” at all costs over another and forgets that there is a bigger picture.
Such people/groups might “play games” to get what they want and express their views, values or beliefs.
So politics is inevitable, especially at work. This is because:
• People have different views, values or belief;
• Some people have more power than others, either through hierarchy or some other basis of influence;
• People have the desire to move up the ladder and get promoted;
• Most people care passionately about decisions at work and this encourages political behaviour to get their way; and
• Office decisions are impacted by work-related goals and personal factors. There is further scope for goal conflict. People and teams within organisations often have to compete for limited resources; this can lead to a kind of “tribal conflict” where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good.
The political games people play can include the sponsorship or favouritism game; the rival camps or gang game; the promotion and position game, and the blame game.
For dealing with office politics effectively and to use it yourself in a positive way, you must first accept the reality of it.
Next, you need to develop strategies to deal with the political behaviour that is going on around you. Here are five steps to help you deal with office politics:
Step 1: Re-map the organisation chart
Office politics often circumvent the formal organisation chart. Sit back and watch for a while and then re-map the organisation chart in terms of political power. Consider:
• Who are the real influencers?
• Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it?
• Who is respected?
• Who champions or mentors others?
• Who is “the brains behind the organisation”?
STEP 2: UNDERSTAND THE INFORMAL NETWORK
Once you know who’s who in the organisation, you have a good idea of where the power and influence lies.
Now you have to understand the social networks, such as:
Who gets along with whom?
• Are there groups or cliques that have formed?
• Who is involved in interpersonal conflict?
• Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
• What is the basis for these interrelationships? Friendship, respect, manipulation?
• How does the influence flow between the parties?
STEP 3: BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Now that you know how the existing relationships work, you need to build your own social network accordingly. Here are some tips:
• Don’t be afraid of politically powerful people in the organisation. Get to know them.
• Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives).
•n Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power.
• Be friendly with everyone but don’t align yourself with one group or another.
• Be a part of multiple networks – this way you can “keep your finger on the pulse” of the organisation.
STEP 4: MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR NETWORK
Use your network to promote yourself and your team positively in order to:
• Gain access to information.
• Build visibility of your achievements.
• Improve difficult relationships.
• Attract opportunities where you can to shine; and
• Seek out ways to make yourself, your team and your boss look good.
STEP 5: NEUTRALISE NEGATIVE PLAY
Your mapping of the informal spheres of influence in the organisation will help you to identify those people (“political animals”) who use others for their own purposes, and not necessarily for the common good.
It is natural to want to distance yourself from these people as much as possible — but what can often be needed is the opposite reaction.
The expression, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer”, applies perfectly to office politics.
You should learn how they behave so you can anticipate when they may be playing a game, and possibly “beat them at it” when needed.
Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them.
Article by Nigel Nolan, senior consultant, Sandbox Advisors, a firm that helps people with careers, job search and training in Singapore. For more information, visit www.sandboxadvisors.com